Widener U. Professor Who Clashed With Dean Is Suspended and Required to Undergo Psychological Evaluation

August 08, 2011

Widener University has suspended a professor involved in a high-profile conflict with its law school's dean and told him he cannot come back to the campus until he undergoes a psychological evaluation and apologizes to two students whose accusations of racism and sexism he had successfully refuted.

James T. Harris III, the president of Widener University, last week informed Lawrence J. Connell, a tenured associate professor of law at the university's campus in Wilmington, Del., that he was being suspended without pay for a year and must undergo other disciplinary measures recommended for him by the law school's associate provost and dean, Linda L. Ammons. Those include a requirement that he undergo psychological evaluation and comply with all of the recommendations of the psychologist or psychiatrist who evaluates him.

As recommended by Dean Ammons, Mr. Connell must also issue a written apology to the students who had accused him, based on a faculty committee's findings that he violated a university policy against retaliation by publicly discussing the allegations they had brought against him and by moving to sue his student accusers for defamation.

Thomas S. Neuberger, a lawyer representing Mr. Connell in a defamation lawsuit against Ms. Ammons, on Monday said his client has no intention of meeting the demands the university has made of him as a condition for his return to his job.

In an e-mail, Mr. Neuberger accused Ms. Ammons of having a conflict of interest as a defendant in Mr. Connell's lawsuit. Mr. Neuberger said he did not see "any logical nexus" between the punishment selected for Mr. Connell and the one charge a faculty committee had found him guilty of: retaliation, for telling students in his class of the racial and sexual harassment charges brought against him and by hiring a lawyer who had threatened to hold his student accusers accountable in court for any lies they told.

Mr. Connell's case has drawn the attention of free-speech advocates in part because he was initially placed on administrative leave and banned from the campus as a threat to safety for making several hypothetical references, in classroom discussions, to the law-school dean's being shot at. The two students who complained about such discussions, Jennifer R. Perez and Nadege Tandoh, also accused Mr. Connell of racial and sexual harassment for such references to Ms. Ammons, who is black, and for other comments they accused him of making in the criminal-law class they took from him.

The university eventually dropped charges that Mr. Connell posed any sort of danger. In a report issued last month and posted on the blog Legal Insurrection, a faculty committee cleared Mr. Connell of the racial and sexual harassment charges but found him guilty of violating a university policy against retaliation against the students for discussing the charges with others.

Mr. Neuberger, in his e-mail, questioned how Widener University could order psychological evaluation for Mr. Connell even after dropping charges he posed any sort of danger to people on the campus.